Victoria Chang is the author of OBIT, winner of the 2018 Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America and nominated for a National Book Award; Barbie Chang; and The Boss, winner of a PEN Center USA Literary Award and a California Book Award, among others. Her most recent book, Dear Memory, published in October of 2021, is a collection of literary letters and mementos on the art of remembering across generations.
Crispin Rodrigues (CR): You mentioned in The Adroit Journal that "Grief is very asynchronous." How does Dear Memory build on your earlier collections like OBIT?
Victoria Chang (VC): My friend, the poet Dana Levin called Dear Memory a branch from the tree of OBIT that grew into its own tree. That seems accurate! Grief is very asynchronous and is something that I noticed when my mother died or when my father had a stroke, in that I was grieving but it’s not like others were grieving at the exact same time as me or in the same way. In some ways, maybe I wrote as a way to find a companion of grief.
CR: There is a brilliant couple of lines in Dear Memory: "Maybe our desire for the past grows after the decay of our present. When the present is more than we can hold, it turns into history." How much of the book is a process of letting go and how much of it is the process of recovery?
VC: When my mother died, I felt like my whole history died but because I didn’t know anything about my history or very little, the grief felt overwhelming. Her death and the subsequent finding of papers and photos made me realise how little I knew about my own history or her history. The book became very much about facing this gap and filling it with language.
CR: Dear Memory features documents and collages of photos and captions that stand as works of art by themselves. In writing Dear Memory, how has your artistic process changed?
VC: I hope my artistic process is always changing and evolving. I love trying new things, playing around, taking different kinds of risks and I think as a result I have to be okay with failure. I’ve gotten to the age where I really only want to do what I want to do whether it succeeds or not.
CR: Dear Memory is as much a conversation with the writers who have shaped who you are and the act of writing as it is a collection of letters to family. Who are the writers that have influenced your craft?
VC: In some ways, this book became a kind of writing book too. I think I felt the different varying branches of the book forming as it was forming and knew that it would be hard for all the pieces to coalesce in the end so I stopped trying and trusted that the reader would be okay with a constellated reading experience versus a more cohesive one. All my old teachers have influenced me in some important ways. In terms of writers, I prefer those writers who were doing risky things during their time, so the Woolf’s of the world, the Stein’s, etc. I love Jorie Graham’s work and also Anne Carson.
CR: Is there someone who you wish to write to but have yet written to?
VC: Well yes! I have plenty of enemies! I’d love to write letters to them but I also know it would be a total waste of my energy, because most, if not all of these people are unworthy of my attention.
CR: Both your parents were Taiwanese immigrants. If you could recommend something to eat from Taiwan, what would you recommend?
VC: I love boba milk tea and have a serious addiction. But you can get boba anywhere. I also love Taiwanese breakfast foods such as oily sticks (you tiao) inside sesame bread (shao bing) with some warm sweet tofu milk (dou jiang). Taiwanese street food is quite good.